For a decade, Bioheat has been navigating a roadmap originally designed by oil heat leaders to gain acceptance as a solution toward the mitigation of declining consumer interest in oil heat.
Wait, did I say roadmap? What roadmap? There is none. At times, it appears that industry professionals work off several versions of a roadmap, but for whatever the reason, default back to business as usual. The industry’s sustainability clock continues to tick and still struggles with consumer anxiety that, based on pricing alone, oil heat is simply not relevant any longer. No need to get into the other issues. Consumers frown on oil heat because price matters, as we all know.
So where does this leave Bioheat and its future as a cleaner burning blend stock for oil heat if we don’t take the steps required to share the benefits with our customers ? Consumers, like thoroughbred race horses, are in the starting gate— anxious to fast track toward natural gas and other home heating strategies that offer them relief. The answer is the same fix as oil heat itself.
With that, I turn my attention to the service technician. The professional service technician has more face time with the customer than anyone in the supply chain. For that reason alone, they are possibly the last link in the entire supply chain to reach out to a customer and let them know that a reformulated oil heat certainly deserves a second chance. The industry mantra used to be, “Oil Heats Best”—not so today in many consumer’s judgment. The goal of Bioheat has always been, “Making Oil heat Better.” A reminder on how that goal gets accomplished is sharing the many attributes that can back the phrase and sustain the industry’s ticking clock.
As a refresher, Bioheat fuel is the name given to any blend of conventional, petroleum-based home heating oil and pure biodiesel, an alternative fuel produced through the chemical transformation of vegetable oils and animal fats. In other words, it is the space-heating equivalent of transportation biofuels, which are blends of biodiesel and conventional petroleum-based diesel fuels. Biodiesel blends are identified by their volume relative to the conventional fuel. Thus, B100 is the term used for pure biodiesel, while B5 Bioheat fuel describes a blend of five percent biodiesel and 95 percent conventional heating oil. Bioheat fuel offers several advantages over traditional fuel oil:
• Contributes to energy security and economic development. As domestically produced Bioheat fuel further penetrates the market for heating fuels (in parallel with the growth of biodiesel as transportation fuels), it will add security to the nation’s energy supply and provide new outlets for the nation’s agricultural products
• Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If the agricultural feedstock is grown and harvested sustainably, thereby maximizing the feedstock’s carbon storage potential, combustion of Bioheat fuel can result in little to no net emissions of carbon dioxide. The fact that biodiesel is America’s only Advanced Biofuel confirms that it does in fact reduce GHG emissions under the rules issued in the EPA program known as the Renewable Fuels Standard.
• Delivers other environmental benefits. Compared to conventional heating oils, Bioheat fuel is cleaner burning. Laboratory studies and field trials conducted over the past decade in heating applications have documented reduced nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate emissions, as well as lower smoke and odor production. In doubt? Don’t be—all which has been touted about Bioheat has been documented by countless reputable organizations, one being Brookhaven National Laboratory, which has worked to help the oil heat industry become more technologically advanced. If that weren’t enough, they have been spearheading fuel quality investigations since the late 1980s and for good cause.
• Stability and cold weather performance. If properly blended, biodiesel will go into solution with heating oil and will not separate. Cold weather conditions can affect the performance of biodiesel. Higher percentage blends (i.e., above B20) have a tendency to crystallize, and then gel, as the ambient temperature goes down, affecting their ability to flow properly. These cold flow issues are less significant at or below a B20 blend (they may appear at temperatures 2-5 degrees warmer than they would with conventional heating oil). Since Bioheat fuel is generally offered at no more than B20, but most often, at a conforming blend, (B2–B5), standard precautions associated with conventional heating oil, such as blending with kerosene, or the use of cold weather additives, can help maintain proper flow characteristics.
• Clogging of burner components. Higher blends of biodiesel can act as a cleaning agent in the fuel tank and thus can help dissolve or loosen accumulated sediments, which might then become deposited in components such as filters, strainers, and nozzles. Higher blends will have a greater cleaning effect similar to a premium fuel additive, which is designed to mobilize tank sludge and sedimentation. Countless field tests have demonstrated that blends up to B20 have the potential to minimize clogging once the older, accumulated deposits have been removed, since the Bioheat fuel burns more cleanly and leaves fewer residues.
• Compatibility with tanks and components. The National Biodiesel Board is a great source for verifying compatibility concerns. The empirical data retained at NBB reveals that all known tanks and systems, including gaskets, seals, hoses, and O-rings, are compatible (i.e., will not be adversely affected by) with Bioheat fuel blends of up to 20 percent biodiesel (B20). However, given the lack of long-term experience with the fuel, the Bioheat Technical Steering Committee (BTSC) is committed to ensuring that Bioheat is safe for use in blends up to 20%. At this time, the BTSC is working on demonstrating “no harm” which the industry will ultimately attest to be “legacy safe.”
So why rely on the service technician when it relates to confirming the benefits associated with Bioheat? Simple, they don’t just talk about it—they live it. They work on the equipment; they handle the parts and know that their customers at the moment may not really be content with the current offering. For those fuel dealers that have made the move to market and sell Bioheat, it’s an exciting and challenging time to be an oil heat dealer. They have chosen to take advantage of Bioheat and help lead their company and their industry into the next generation. Bioheat is a simple choice and a smart solution that results in a better fuel for your customers and ultimately, an improvement in the dealer’s bottom line—ask a technician!